Research suggest that higher levels of fitness set you up to handle the demands of sport. So how does one achieve a “higher level of fitness,” and when do we start this process, and how exactly does it effect performance on the field or court? As seen in the picture below, taken from Edwards and Nokes research, elite level players perform more high intensity runs and sprints (and cover more distance) than moderate level players. These players have conditioned themselves to be able to make more runs at higher speeds than those playing at a lesser level.
The ability for a player to recover quickly from a sprint or run at a high intensity is essential for elite level play. Numerous studies have shown this to be one of the main factors that differentiate high level players from low level players. But the kicker is, most players or parents of younger players see this as purely a “speed” driven model. They want to become faster, they put all their eggs into the speed based model (typically a track sprint drills model to improve running form and straight line running speed).
This model of speed training is only one small factor in the bigger picture of training athletes to compete at a higher level. It’s not how fast an athlete is it that makes him elite, but rather HOW he uses his speed, how often he uses his speed and his ability to use his speed at critical times during games.
So what does a more complete model demand of us?
- Base Aerobic Capacity (ability to recover from high intensity bouts of activity)
- Lower Body Strength / Power (ability to put force into the ground quickly and efficiently)
- Elastic Qualities of the Muscle (dynamic transition of force between the muscles and the ground)
- Footwork, Form and Body Control (the technical skill of sport speed)
Although all of these are important, without the first one (Base Aerobic Capacity), the player will not be able to perform any of the other skills repeatedly, at a high level, over the course of a single training session or game. No matter how fast you are, how strong you are or how you look when running or sprinting in a non-fatigued state, once fatigue sets in all other areas become compromised.
So we ask the question, “What is your number 1?” We first need to look first at your work capacity. How efficient is your aerobic energy system, how much volume, load and intensity can you handle in a single session, and are you prepared for the demands of the training session? Once this is at a higher level, we are ready to work on the rest of your game.